Europe's online source of news, data & analysis for professionals involved in packaged media and new delivery technologies

News in Brief - june 2007


INDEPENDENT studios Big River Pictures and Cinemarr Entertainment have announced that their joint feature film Bell Witch: The Movie will be released to home video via HD DVD, Blu-ray and internet before being released on standard DVD. Although the movie was shot principally in 2002, making it the first movie about the Bell Witch, the studios say its release has been held until HD viewing capabilities were more readily available to home viewers. "Though Bell Witch was shot in 24p 1080 HD back in 2002, the film was held until it could be released in HD so that people could see it as it was meant to be viewed," the director said. The movie is due for general release in September.

LAST week, the AACS had no comment regarding the Digg controversy, however AACS business group chair, Michael Ayers, has since issued the following message through the BBC: “But a line is crossed when we start seeing keys being distributed and tools for circumvention. You step outside of the realm of protected free speech then… We will take whatever action is appropriate… We hope the public respects our position and complies with applicable laws.”

NEW Medium Enterprises has signed a partnership with US independent distributor and production company Anthem Pictures for the release of titles in the NME-developed HD VMD format . Anthem's recent releases include Mother Ghost, Soldier of God and Two:Thirteen. Catalogue titles include Zalma King’s Red Shoe Diaries. Parent company Anthem Digital, a major force in the independent DVD marketplace, has authored and designed over 4,000 titles to date. The company will play the role of an authoring partner for the HD VMD format on the West Cost of America.

HOPING to increase PlayStation 3 sales for the 4th quarter 2007, Sony has announced it will launch an aggressive marketing campaign for the console that will mainly highlight the hardware's Blu-ray capabilities. "Our goal is to definitely widen our target base and not be so niche," Kim Nguyen, Sony PlayStation 3 Manager, said about the campaign, which will encompass internet, TV, print and radio. Sony did not give an exact date for the start of the campaign, but it is expected by July.

SONY said on Wednesday that it aims to ship 11 million PlayStation 3s worldwide this year, ramping up competition against its rivals after missing its recent targets. Sony shipped 5.5 million PS3 consoles in the year to March, below its target for six million due to production problems with its high-definition DVD player that gave rivals Nintendo and Microsoft an early lead in the console war. The so-called "Father of the PlayStation," Ken Kutaragi, said last month he was stepping down as head of Sony's game division, which is sliding deeper into the red.

HITACHI says it will be able to bring a 200GB Blu-ray disc to market by 2009. According to a report on nikkei.net, it will be able to do this by accessing eight recording layers on a single side of the platter.

DVD6C Licensing Group (DVD6C), whose members include nine leading developers of DVD technology and formats, announced the appointment of Tatsuya Ii as Exclusive Regional Agent of DVD6C Americas. Ii will succeed Masahisa Saito effective 1 June 2007. Ii stated "DVD6C was initially created to ensure a level playing field for the DVD industry. As the Exclusive Regional Agent, I will continue to actively work toward this goal."

TOSHIBA and its public relations agency Brodeur received a Silver SABRE Award in technology for “the successful launch of HD DVD in the United States,” the companies said. The SABRE award was presented by The Holmes Group, which publishes trade reports on the public relations industry, for “superior achievement in branding and reputation. Silver SABREs recognize the best programs in specific industries,” according to a Brodeur spokesman.

CINRAM plans to expand beyond its traditional optical disc replication business as uncertainty plagues the future of packaged media. CEO Dave Rubenstein told analysts the company will move into an industry separate from disc-making to counteract the increasingly seasonal sales of DVDs and CDs. The pending announcement "utilizes our smarts in logistics over an entire other industry that has nothing to do with the video business," he said in an interview at the company's annual meeting. "This is another business that has no technology threat that I can see." Rubenstein said the product is "smaller than a breadbox, cannot be delivered through a pipe (and) ships in a box with a bar code." Details are expected be unveiled within 60 days.

RITEK has received the certification for both HD DVD-R (recordable, write once) and HD DVD-RW (rewritable) formats, becoming the only Taiwan-based producer of optical discs to receive certification. The technological barrier for HD DVD-R is quite high and that for HD DVD-RW is higher, Ritek indicated. Volume production for the two formats will kick off in the second half of this year at the earliest, Ritek noted. CMC Magnetics received certification for Blu-ray Disc (BD)-R production last month and may begin volume production next quarter, according to industry sources.

WEINSTEIN Co. and its Dimension Films have launched three new direct-to-DVD labels: classics specialist The Miriam Collection, family-friendly Kaleidoscope TWC and horror/thriller/sci-fi hybrid Dimension Extreme.
All three labels will be serviced to retail by Genius Products, TWC’s distribution partner. Product from these labels will be targeted toward DVD, but also might get theatrical premieres. Initial street dates and pricing for titles from Miriam, Kaleidoscope and Dimension Extreme have not yet been specified.

NME has engaged the services of Mosaic Capital Securities as its corporate advisor for its planned cross border initial public offering. Mosaic will serve as the exclusive North American placement agent/corporate advisor and will work alongside other global investment banks with regards to its financing and implementation.

SONY Computer Entertainment Europe issued details on the PlayStation 3's next firmware update, which was available for download beginning 24 May. With the version 1.80 update, the PS3 will be able to upscale DVDs as well as PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games as high as 1080p, providing greater detail and picture quality on high definition displays. Due to legal restrictions, DVD upscaling will only be supported with the use of an HDMI connection.

TAIWANESE disc-maker, RiData, plans to mass produce Blu-Ray Disc Rewritable (BD-RW) discs and high-definition DVD rewritable (HD DVD-RW) discs. Ultimately leading to lower costs for consumers, the initial cost of the Blu-Ray rewritables will still be a little high, however, with an average cost of $10 per disc in retail stores. Production on the HD DVD-RW and BD-RW will begin in the third quarter of this year.

BUENA Vista Worldwide Home Entertainment recently held a 'coming-out party' for its BD versions of the first two Pirates of the Caribbean films, which include the studio's most comprehensive use of BD-Java interactivity. The titles are both on 50GB discs with the feature film and include a second 25GB disc with extras that were part of the films' standard definition versions.

MIHAI Crasneanu, Chairman and CEO of Glowria, is stepping down at the French online rental-to-Video On Demand operator while remaining on the board. He did not spell out the reasons why he was leaving. Crasneanu founded Glowria in 2002. The company is No. 1 in France and No. 2 in Germany in the online DVD rental business. Glowria launched VOD activities last year, supplying a service on IPTV and PC to companies such as Neuf Cegetel and Fnac.

BUDGET UK DVD and music distributor Prism Leisure has gone into administration. Some 150 staff have been made redundant. According to insiders, debts are running into "millions", according to one source close to the company. Prism has had deals with several independent distributors, including Metrodome, Tartan, Green Umbrella, Redbus (now Lionsgate UK) and FremantleMedia. No rescue plan could be contemplated, according to administrator BDO Stoy Hayward.

SONY's computer entertainment unit, that houses the company's PlayStation gaming consoles, is cutting up to 100 jobs at US headquarters in Foster City, California, in a streamlining initiative, if published reports are right. The job cuts are not unexpected. Sony's European division of its computer entertainment unit announced plans in April to slash 150 jobs. Sony's computer entertainment unit posted a $2 billion loss on sales of $8.6 billion for 2006. Some anylsysts attribute the latest development to a weak sales performance of PS3. The company does not expect its game business to return to profitability until the fiscal year ending March 2009.

OPTIARC, the SONY/NEC Optiarc, the joint venture between Sony and NEC formed last year, has unveiled its first Blu-ray burner for PCs. Optiarc’s BD-M100A burns single and dual layer Blu-ray DVDs at up to 8x speed and CDs at up to 24x speed. It also has a storage capacity of 50GB. The company is said not to be concerned with the outcome of the format battle between Blu-ray and HD DVD. Through the joining of HD DVD backer NEC and Sony’s optical storage businesses, Optiarc manufactures both products.

UNIVERSAL Studios - now the only studio exclusively backing HD DVD - has gone on record as stating that it plans to continue doing so. In a published interview, Ken Graffeo, executive VP, marketing at Universal Studios Home Entertainment, stated: "Several years ago, we looked at the technology and decided that this format would offer the better set of mandatory specifications. From day one, every HD DVD player made has to have an Ethernet port for online connectivity. And every player had software to support unique, interactive viewing experiences either programmed onto a disc or available online. We're exploiting this on many Universal releases. Graffeo also said that he sees the format war as being beneficial to the consumer by helping to drive prices down.

INTEL plans to add a next-generation DVD playback option to its Santa Rosa platform in the second half of 2007. The company will use a third-party hardware decoder to bring support for both Blu-ray and HD DVD optical disc formats to versions of Santa Rosa with integrated graphics processors (IGPs).

PIONEER plans to launch its first Blu-ray player, the BDP-LX70 in the third quarter for the Taiwan market. It will be showcased at Computex Taipei 2007. At a wooping recommended retail price of $2,400, the player will feature 1080p at 24Hz and Dolby TrueHD lossless audio. For home network connectivity, the player includes DLNA to allow streaming audio and video, such as MPEG2 and WMV9 video, MP3 and WMA audio and JPEG image files. For legacy playback, the machine plays PAL and NTSC DVDs and audio CDs.

SILICON Optix has released a high-definition version of its HQV Benchmark for Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD format players. HD HQV Benchmark provides the tools required to evaluate the picture quality of various high definition products, such as HDTVs, monitors, video scalers, HD-DVD players, Blu-ray players, projectors or AV receivers. The HD HQV Benchmark discs are available for $20 each.

WARNER Bros. Home Entertainment is reported to have plans to test releasing the movie 300 on VOD and DVD simultaneously in Belgium, Scandinavia and some other European markets later this year. As reported by Home Media Magazine, Tsujihara told a Deutsche Bank media conference in New York that while the studio receives 60-70 percent of VOD revenue, it gets only 15-25 percent of DVD rental revenue.

CLEAN Power Concepts Inc. has struck a working relationship with Vancouver film production and distribution company Wind Horse Media for the development of a full series of Alternative Power Instructional DVDs. Clean Power Concepts is creating a portfolio of products and services in three primary activities (retail, b-to-b and e-commerce) in the solar, wind and hydro generation sectors.

MALAYSIAN anti-piracy forces raided a suspected pirate optical disc production factory in Kuala Lumpur, seizing a VCD production line and printing machine capable of producing at least 3.5 million pirated optical discs per year worth in excess of US$7 million. The raid came during Operation Tripod, an aggressive Motion Picture Association anti-piracy enforcement initiative targeting the production, distribution and sales of pirated movies that is scheduled to run through June 30, 2007 in 13 countries and territories across the Asia-Pacific region. Operation Tripod is also focused on the illegal camcording of newly released titles in cinemas.

ACCORDING to the Motion Picture Association, all-media revenues from filmed entertainment (home video, television, theatrical and pay TV) from its members – Walt Disney, Paramount, Sony Pictures , 20th Century Fox, Universal and Warner Bros – expanded by 8% in 2006 to reach $42.6 billion. The US contributed $24.3 billion and the international market $18.3 billion. All-media sales in the US grew by 10%, while the international market (top 25 markets) grew by 5%.

FRENCH mini-major MK2 is the first European film distributor to launch its own video-on-demand website, mk2vod.com. The service currently offers 500 film titles at a price ranging from $5 and $7 a download. The number of titles on offered is to increase to 2,000 by September, according to MK2.

MICROSOFT's programme manager for Media Entertainment Convergence, Richard Doherty, said the company was "very firmly planted in HD-DVD" and that "Blu-ray hasn't delivered that interactive content [like HD DVD] has." He also predicts that HD-DVD "will be the last optical [home entertainment] generation. If this one survives."

EXECUTIVES from Warner Bros., Walt Disney Studios, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba and Pioneer Electronics have proposed an amendment to the current copy protection license governing DVDs that would completely ban all DVD backups, and prevent DVD playback without the DVD disc being present inside the drive. The proposal was made public in a letter sent by Michael Malcolm, the chief executive of Kaleidescape, a DVD jukebox company which successfully defeated a suit by the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA) this past March. Malcolm claims this proposed amendment is to put Kaleidescape out of business by excluding the Kaleidescape System from the DVD playback devices authored by the CSS License Agreement.

A PANASONIC executive has said that the HD format war is over and Blu-ray has won the format battle. Joseph Taylor, a Vice President at Panasonic in the USA told TWICE Magazine "I'm giving a very politically incorrect answer. I think the battle is over. I think Blu-ray has won." He said there are two "determining factor[s] ... Who did the content providers select? At the moment, overwhelmingly, the content providers have selected Blu-ray. What are consumers buying? Since the beginning of the year content [sales have been] almost two to one for Blu-ray." Taylor added, "There may be some noise for a little while, but in the end I think Blu-ray will be the technology that wins the battle."